Law in Contemporary Society
I thought Michael D. made a series of great observations in his entry, "Selflessness is Overrated," under WinningTheLottery. In particular, I thought it might be useful to start a separate thread to further explore the concept of "community" that he introduced:

I think we should be asking ourselves, first, where is my community? Once we've figured that out, the second question is, how can I develop a legal practice which benefits my chosen community? Framing the question this way makes a couple things clear:
  1. The first question is the hard question.
  2. The first question is not actually a professional question at all; it's a personal one.
  3. The reason why we all end up going to big firms is not that we're evil, or even selfish, it's that we haven't answered the first question. We are all so busy getting A's on our homework and getting into the next big school that we never quite get around to the first question. And once there's no more school to go to, and somebody's willing to give us a safe paycheck and a safe answer to the first question, we take it.
  4. After devoting our whole lives to maximizing our own potentiality and keeping our options open, answering the first question requires that we stop asking ourselves what we can do to become more powerful and starting asking ourselves questions like: “what interests me? What kinds of people do I want to be around? What kinds of day-to-day activities do I want to do with those people?"
  5. Answering the first question should take us to a place where we feel excited to be, not guilty about not being
  6. The second question is probably pretty easy. Everyone needs a lawyer. Once we each figure out where we fit, it should not be hard to figure out how to make a living off of our trade.
-- MichaelDreibelbis - 08 Feb 2009

This discussion really resonates with me. One of the main reasons I have virtually no interest in Biglaw is because of my experience with a group of friends who work for a variety of non-profits and live in what amounts to an intentional community. Of all the different ways of living I've observed, the way they live and interact with one another most closely approximates how I'd like to structure my own life after law school.

Of course, mine is a literal reading of Michael D.'s use of the term "community." I'm not sure precisely what he meant by it; he seemed to have a broader conception in mind. What other kinds of social groupings could the term encompass as used above? Is there a "community" of Biglaw associates? Might it be useful to attempt a working definition for ourselves?

On a related note, introducing the idea of community into our discussion highlights what might be one of the most important ways our legal education system fails us as law students. We've already discussed in some depth how law school fosters a zero-sum, grade-obsessed, "me vs. the world" mentality among students that stifles communication. I think it stifles the formation of community as well. Communities are based on (among other things) mutual trust; how can we come to trust one another if we're focused on how our every word and action affect our relative advantage? If part of becoming a fulfilled and productive lawyer depends on answering the question, "where is my community?" -- and I think it might -- this is a serious problem, and we should be thinking about what we can do in our day-to-day interactions to change our learning atmosphere for the better.

-- MichaelHolloway - 09 Feb 2009

Perhaps one of the enticements of Biglaw is that it is not totally community-less. There is a community at a firm -- united by prestige, money, and esprit de corps. Maybe also the opportunity to do work that really affects the world -- a form of power.

Arnold seems relevant here. On p. 25 he identifies four factors necessary for an organization to survive:

  1. A creed or set of socially unifying rituals
  2. Attitudes which give social prestige to people who subordinate themselves to the group
  3. Institutional habits to manage cooperation
  4. A tradition that gives validation to the creed
Arnold says: "Granted these essentials, we find successful organizations. Without them, organization can be maintained only by force, and force cannot continue long because it is too exhausting. A number of individuals cannot be found successively to represent the hard-boiled qualities necessary for such organizations."

Assuming that Arnold's criteria hold true to some extent (they seem arbitrary to me -- or perhaps could be simplified to "a creed which helps individuals submit to the group"), then how do law firms, as organizational communities, fit in?

They certainly have survived, and are probably considered successful. Is it because their creeds are strong enough to offer a sense of community to some people? Or is it because they actually do have enough hard-boiled individuals (a succession of managing partners) to succeed absent a unifying creed? Corporations and law firms that are nominally united by a pursuit of wealth still seem to be able to develop institutional cultures and a sense of community.

Of course, surviving and existing are completely different things than being an ideal environment for a young lawyer to work in...

-- GavinSnyder - 10 Feb 2009

I too was struck by Michael's post. I think that this discussion points to some interesting facts about law students as well as the pull that biglaw can exert. Never having been part of a large law firm, I can't speak from experience about whether they have a strong esprit de corps or not. Certainly, from the position of someone outside the biglaw world who may be given the opportunity to enter it, the idea of a community united by power, money, and prestige sounds enticing. However, from a purely statistical point of view, the low retention rate at large law firms makes me think that there is not such a strong sense of community there. Or at least that whatever esprit de corps exists is created by excluding others rather than by forming a real durable bond between the lawyers themselves. In fact, I think that a community based on power and wealth is something of an anti-community - a sense of community that is only felt when considering those who are not in it, but which doesn't spontaneously arise from inside of the organization.

The fact that we are so attracted to an anti-community like biglaw speaks, I think, to a lack of community among law students. I can think of two possible explanations for this lack of community.

(1) Law school attracts people who have never had a very strong sense of community. This is certainly true for me - having been raised in the south by parents who hate where they live, I've never been comfortable being completely part of one community. I've always needed to be in between three or four (musicians, students, non-students, the North, the South, for example). I think I was drawn to law school by the possibility of making a career of mediating between groups.

(2) A function of law school is to separate us from our former communities in order to teach us to exist in the meta-community of "reason" and "logic". A sort of fast-paced republic of letters. I think this function is betrayed by the recommendations of professors and lawyers before we started this year to "not forget the things we liked before we started law school". I, for one, have found this experience to somewhat painful. I think many of us come into class worried whether we are really smart enough to hack it here at this illustrious school which must have illustrious students. I am just getting over being intimidated by the ivy league educations of many of my classmates. Our fear of opening up to one another and thereby proving that we're really not as smart as them can prevent us from forming any real connection with one another. The curve and the lack of interaction between students during class supports this deracinating function.

If I'm right about these two factors contributing to the lack of community in law school, then I don't think that asking ourselves, "where is my community?" is going to solve the problem by itself. For people like me, that question is unanswerable because it seems to assume that I had a community at sometime in the distant past. I think that the real task is for us to work together to create a new community that is not based only on a desire for power. This will require tackling some of the constraints of law school.

I think this wiki is an great tool, because it enables us to make these sort of underground connections. Perhaps we need something similar for other classes or even for our remaining time at law school? Any other ideas?

-- PatrickCronin - 10 Feb 2009



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